What action would you expect the SRA to take regarding allegations of fraud against a solicitor

Frances Lewis made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
This authority is not subject to FOI law, so is not legally obliged to respond (manylion).


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Roedd y cais yn rhannol lwyddiannus.

Dear The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal,

I have complained to the SRA about a solicitor and produced very credible evidence of misappropriation of client money, forgery, deliberately misleading the regulators, fraudulent misrepresentation etc but the SRA has dismissed my complaint without a thorough enough explanation. I have been complaining about this particular solicitor for two years - and there have been many complaints before mine, dating back to 2012. This solicitor is still practising without any form of restriction. I am concerned about the potential for public harm as there has already been significant damage to me, and others.

What would you expect the SRA to do in these circumstances? If the SRA does not take action what options do I have (other than referring the case to the police)?

Yours faithfully,

F Lewis

SDT Enquiries, The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

1 Atodiad

Dear Sir

Thank you for your enquiry regarding a complaint about a solicitor.

It is open to you to make an application direct to the Tribunal. It is
essential to note that the Tribunal does not have any powers of
investigation, nor does it collect evidence to support or oppose an
application. The Tribunal cannot award compensation. Ordinarily the
Tribunal will expect a Lay Applicant to have first sent their complaint or
to have made a report to the SRA, which does have powers of investigation
and can collect evidence. If an application by an individual is made
direct to the Tribunal, it can refer the application to the SRA. In such a
case the SRA will take whatever steps it considers to be appropriate,
which might include investigation or submitting its own application to the
Tribunal

Applications to the Tribunal must be made in the form specified by the
Solicitors (Disciplinary Proceedings) Rules 2019 (Form of Application),
supported by a statement setting out the allegations and the facts and
matters supporting the application and each allegation made. Documents
referred to in the statement should be exhibited to it.

Bringing an Application before the Tribunal is a complicated matter for a
Lay Applicant. The majority of applications are brought by the Solicitors
Regulation Authority who have substantial resources available and who
regularly use barristers to present their case (plus a solicitor assisting
the barrister). The solicitor may have insurance in respect of the costs
of defending this Application and he is likely to seek legal assistance in
any event.

The SDT is an independent, impartial, transparent body. This limits the
amount of guidance that we can give to you; we must be fair to both
parties and our guidance must always be factual and neutral. Even though
you are acting in person without legal representation we cannot tell you
what to say or how to present your case. The Tribunal will decide the case
solely on the evidence that you put before it and will not carry out
investigations on your behalf – it is not permitted to do so.

There may be costs involved in the application which means that whoever is
successful at the final hearing is likely to receive their costs if they
win and have to pay the other side’s costs if they lose, including the
costs of the steps leading up to the final hearing, such as standard
directions and case management hearings. I should therefore make it clear
that if your Application against the solicitor is ultimately unsuccessful,
he may apply to the Tribunal for an order that you pay his costs of
defending the proceedings. Of course, if your Application is successful
you can make an application for costs against him. Costs where a person is
represented can run into 5 figures.

You will be the person prosecuting the case before the Tribunal and the
Tribunal itself can give you only very limited assistance. You must prove
your allegations against the solicitor and you must prove them to the
civil standard of proof. This means that you must prove your allegations
on the balance of probabilities. The solicitor does not have to prove
anything because the burden of proof is on you as the Applicant (or the
SRA if it is prosecuting).

The SDT does not fund either party, so you will have to use your own
financial resources to pursue your Application. The SDT does not pay
expenses to parties or their witnesses. That too will be your
responsibility in respect of your Application. The solicitor will have a
similar responsibility in respect of his defence witnesses.

I hope this is of some assistance, but please do contact me again if you
are unsure about anything I have said above.

Kind regards

Case Management Team
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
Email: [1][SDT request email]
Website address: [2]www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk

PLEASE NOTE:

In line with government advice about the recent Coronavirus outbreak, I
will be working away from the office for the time being. You can contact
the SDT at [email address]. 
 
Please do not send us items by DX, courier or post as we cannot take
delivery of these at the current time. 

If your query cannot be dealt with by email and you need to speak to
someone, please call us on 07498 545841 or 07930 230411.  Please do not
leave a message as we will not be able to pick it up.
 
Please check our website for any updates and information about when our
offices will reopen.

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear SDT Enquiries,

Thank you for this very thorough and timely response. Since individuals / lay people cannot receive compensation they would be better off going to the crown court and not to the SDT. Do you agree? There seems little point in using to the SDT. It is a shame that some solicitors are not "honest to the ends of the earth" and lay people (and the SDT) have to discipline so many solicitors who have abused the trust of their clients and/or been dishonest.

It seems to me that a lay person should never have to go to the SDT if the SRA did its job properly in the first place. If a lay person takes the case to the SDT and subsequently wins (having first presented it to the SRA), this means that the SRA has failed in its duties. Do you agree? If the SRA has failed in its duties, how is it then held accountable? As you say, the SRA has considerable resources, unlike me, who has very little. What resources I did have were paid away to solicitors trying to sort out the mess the solicitor I complained about left me in.

This particular solicitor has been reported to the SRA on many occasions since 2012 for the same offences and SRA has still taken no action. The SRA has a significant amount of evidence which it has chosen to ignore. If there is irrefutable evidence of dishonesty then the SRA should take the case to the SDT and within a reasonable period of time. 8 years of delay is not a reasonable period of time. The SRA is still cogitating. The SRA also claims to be an independent and transparent body but it does not publish details of complaints (as the LeIfgal Ombudsman is required to do). Maybe if it published its complaints (with summary outcomes as LeO is obliged to do), clients would not use dishonest and / or negligent solicitors who would be forced to improve their own ethical, legal and practical service standards and the abuse would stop either because they would get no clients because of client informed choice, or because they were taught (as we have all been taught) that crime does not pay. However, where the regulator turns a blind eye and refuses to study the evidence before it, crime clearly does pay. I am not the only lay person who has suffered due to the failure of the SRA in relation to this particular individual. The issues I have suffered from are the same that were reported previously. I (and perhaps others) have suffered needlessly. I have suffered because the SRA has failed in its duties.

What consequences are there for the SRA of not escalating a case to the SDT when there is evidence to suggest that it should be? What challenge can a lay person make? The SRA is handing off to the Legal Ombudsman on cases it has dismissed as service issues when there is very clear evidence of alleged dishonesty and alleged fraud? There is something rotten at the core of the SRA escalation process and this needs urgent attention. It is knowingly allowing the public to come to harm.

No layperson should have to do the SRA's job for them but if they do, it is clearly best to do it through the general court and not this tribunal. Do you agree?

Yours sincerely,

F Lewis

SDT Enquiries, The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

Dear Sir,

We acknowledge receipt of your latest e-mail.

Please note that other than setting out the procedure for lodging an
application with the Tribunal we cannot provide you with any advice with
respect to a preferred course of action on your part. This is a matter for
you to consider and upon which you may wish to obtain independent legal
advice.

Kind regards

Case Management Assistant
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
Tel: 0207 329 4808
[1]www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk

In line with government advice about the recent Coronavirus outbreak, I
will be working away from the office for the time being. You can contact
me at [email address].

Please do not send us items by DX, courier or post as we cannot take
delivery of these at the current time.

If your query cannot be dealt with by email and you need to speak to
someone, please call us on 07498 545841 or 07930 230411. Please do not
leave a message as we will not be able to pick it up.

Please check our website for any updates and information about when our
offices will reopen.

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear SDT Enquiries,

This is a copout. I am asking as a member of the public relying on the SRA to uphold the Law and protect the common good.

Presumably, dishonesty is not tolerated in the legal profession and will be tackled immediately. What is the internal process of the SRA in such cases - there must be one which you can describe generically.

I've made a complaint - where does it go, who handles it, how much time should it take. What happens if you find it is valid - where does it go next. What happens to it - how long can that take..

I should not have to go to a solicitor to find out what your process is. This response is ridiculous. Please try again. The very least you could have done is quote Lord Bingham from Bolton v Law Society!!

My understanding is that dishonesty of any type will not be tolerated and solicitors guilty of dishonesty should be struck off. You have statistics - on average how long does this process take?

Yours sincerely,

F Lewis

SDT Enquiries, The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

Dear Mr Lewis

I write in response to your email below.

The SDT is a statutory Tribunal that determines allegations of misconduct
against solicitors. The SDT is entirely independent of the SRA. Your
questions in relation to the SRA's processes and procedures need to be
addressed to them.

In terms of the SDT, we aim to list most applications that are certified
as showing a case to answer within 6 months of the case being certified.
We publish information in our Annual Report as to how long proceedings
take on average (please see:
[1]https://www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk/ab...) . The
2019 Annual Report has not yet been published but the 2018 is on the
website.

The overall process in respect of lay applications can be longer because
in certain circumstances the Tribunal seeks information from the SRA
before deciding whether or not to certify the application (please see Rule
16 of the Solicitors (Disciplinary Proceedings) Rules 2019. The Rules are
on our website and can be found here:
[2]https://www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk/si...

In terms of sanction the SDT has "A Guidance Note on Sanction" which can
be found here:
[3]https://www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk/si...
This sets out how sanction is approached when the SDT has found that a
solicitor has acted dishonestly.

Yours sincerely

Geraldine Newbold
Chief Executive Officer and Clerk
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
Tel: 0207 329 4808

PLEASE NOTE:

In line with government advice about the recent Coronavirus outbreak, I
will be working away from the office for the time being. You can contact
me at [email address].  Alternatively, you can contact
the SDT at [email address]. 
 
Please do not send us items by DX, courier or post as we cannot take
delivery of these at the current time. 

If your query cannot be dealt with by email and you need to speak to
someone, please call us on 07498 545841 or 07930 230411.  Please do not
leave a message as we will not be able to pick it up.
 
Please check our website for any updates and information about when our
offices will reopen.

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Geraldine

Thank you for your response. I have read the information attached to the links with interest. One can only hope that the SDT will do its work, protect the public good and justice will be done sooner rather than later.

Many of my questions remain unanswered and I guess they must be directed at the SRA as you say. I have read several SDT tribunal reports and they do not begin to do justice to pain and anxiety felt by clients whose trust has been betrayed by the very people who were engaged to help them. The wheels of justice are slow in turning and there is significant suffering as a result. I'm sure Lord Bolton would be as unhappy about that as I am.

Yours sincerely,

F Lewis

SDT Enquiries, The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

Dear Mr Lewis

Thank you for your email below. The Tribunal strives to protect the
interest of the public and the reputation of the profession.

As you know it determines whether or not allegations of professional
misconduct are proved. These allegations are based on alleged breaches of
Principles and Rules as you will have seen from the Judgments you have
read.

If allegations are proved the harm caused is a key factor in the
Tribunal's determination of sanction. This includes harm caused to the
clients which is something that concerns the Tribunal. I have read and
noted your comments in this regard and will reflect on them.

Yours sincerely

Geraldine Newbold
Chief Executive Officer and Clerk
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
Tel: 0207 329 4808
DDI: 0207 778 0765
Email: [1][email address]
[2]www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk

PLEASE NOTE:

In line with government advice about the recent Coronavirus outbreak, I
will be working away from the office for the time being. You can contact
me at [email address].  Alternatively, you can contact
the SDT at [email address]. 
 
Please do not send us items by DX, courier or post as we cannot take
delivery of these at the current time. 

If your query cannot be dealt with by email and you need to speak to
someone, please call us on 07498 545841 or 07930 230411.  Please do not
leave a message as we will not be able to pick it up.
 
Please check our website for any updates and information about when our
offices will reopen.

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear SDT Enquiries,

Thank you, Geraldine.

The harm done to clients after a solicitors' breach of trust is significant. Obviously, there are degrees of significance but in the most abhorrent cases this can lead to mental health issues in abused clients that have a ripple effect that touches everyone with whom they have a relationship (with the associated cost to society).

Similar complaints to mine were reported to the SRA by others 8 years ago, prior to my engaging this solicitor. I was told by the SRA two years ago that this solicitor was being referred to the SDT. There is nothing on the SRA website notifying potential clients of an investigation into multiple offences so there is nothing stopping this solicitor from reoffending with new clients (like us). I have been told that the date of SDT tribunals are only published two weeks before. What is to stop this solicitor recruiting more clients in the interim? There are no warnings on the SRA website and LeO only publishes decisions for a year, so no holistic view is available. The public want and need to believe that they can trust the solicitor they have engaged. When I engaged this particular solicitor, the alleged misconduct was already known to the regulators.

I have been treated very badly by a solicitor and subsequently by the regulators (as the SRA records show) and I am afraid that both have brought the reputation of the legal profession into disrepute. As previously stated, I was told two years ago by the SRA that the solicitor in question was being referred to the SDT. This decision may have been taken sometime before that. If, and when the solicitor eventually appears before you, it is reassuring to know that you are independent and impartial and you will judge the solicitor on the facts presented before you and will make the right decision, giving due regard to the immense suffering that solicitor has caused clients like me.

Meanwhile, the solicitor in question has allegedly launched a claim against me just because I asked for professional indemnity insurance details which the firm (and the SRA) did not provide. I suspect the claim is exercising my right to complain. I now have to embark on another battle, after the solicitor in question failed to protect me from the first one. I believe this is an abuse of process but unfortunately, I have to go through the motions in order for an impartial and independent judge to find out and encounter yet more anguish and expense along the way. I know that this is of no concern of yours but I wanted to impress upon you the potential harm to the common good of the lack of transparency in this process. I understand the solicitor in question has the right of privacy and the right to a fair hearing, but I have those same rights and I am the victim. I just don't have the same deep pockets.

Thank you for taking the time to respond and letting me know you will reflect on my comments. I appreciate the personal touch. I really hope that lessons will not only be learned, but acted upon.

Yours sincerely,

F Lewis

SDT Enquiries, The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

Dear Mr Lewis

Thank you for taking the time to reply. Whilst it would not be appropriate
for me to comment on your individual case what comes across very clearly
is the impact that the situation has had on you.

I am assuming that you are already aware but you can check an individual
solicitor's record here: [1]https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/register/

You are correct that we only publish our cause lists 2 weeks before a
hearing. However if a case to answer has been certified against a
solicitor we will normally provide details of forthcoming hearing date
upon request.

Yours sincerely

Geraldine Newbold
Chief Executive Officer and Clerk
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
Tel: 0207 329 4808
DDI: 0207 778 0765
Email: [2][email address]
[3]www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk

PLEASE NOTE:

In line with government advice about the recent Coronavirus outbreak, I
will be working away from the office for the time being. You can contact
me at [email address].  Alternatively, you can contact
the SDT at [email address]. 
 
Please do not send us items by DX, courier or post as we cannot take
delivery of these at the current time. 

If your query cannot be dealt with by email and you need to speak to
someone, please call us on 07498 545841 or 07930 230411.  Please do not
leave a message as we will not be able to pick it up.
 
Please check our website for any updates and information about when our
offices will reopen.

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Geraldine

This is not my experience either. I have been told that I must look out for this particular solicitor to headline on the SDT website. I am not allowed to have the date prior to that. I have been told this solicitor will be appearing before the SDT shortly, but that is the extent of it. In the meantime this solicitor has decided to harrass me for exercising my rights of complaint. I have been receiving nuisance calls at home, and threats of court action for unpaid fees that I have never been invoiced for! One would think, with a tribunal looming, this solicitor would have more important things to concentrate on. I have reported this solicitors actions to the SRA (again) and am hoping that the SRA will ask the solicitor to cease and desist (as I have). I am afraid the next stop will be the police.

If ever a solicitor is bringing the legal profession into disrepute, this one is and this solicitor has been doing it for a very long time under the watchful eye of LeO and the SRA. Hopefully, justice will (eventually) prevail but meanwhile I will have to rack up a fortune in legal fees to pay another solicitor to defend my corner in a shameful abuse of process. Its win-win for the legal profession, isn't it?

Yours sincerely,

F Lewis